Thursday, February 18, 2016

Danger-Danger, Overachiever: 10 Reasons to Schedule Rest into Your Running Program

So you just ran a big deal race, huh? A race you focused on for half a year, invested countless (or specifically tracked) hours that ultimately exceeded 100-hours and that doesn't even count the amount of time you spent thinking, dreaming, talking about, having nightmares about this event. Maybe it's a day that you had your best performance (at that distance) ever?. Maybe it was a completely imperfect day where you knew had you had better "circumstances" you'd have run much faster. Either way, you find yourself inspired, hungry, excited to take on what is next, to keep this momentum moving forward.

Take a deep breath. You're not likely going to love what I have to say next... the most important thing you do in the next phase of training is recover from your hard effort. While I do not fully subscribe to this rule, a long-standing coaches saying in the realm of long distance running is:

"For every mile raced, take at least one day of recovery."

This means, generally speaking, that a 5k raced requires a few days, a 10k requires about a week, a half marathon merits 2 weeks of recovery and marathoners need about a month to bounce back before resuming normal training, long runs and hard/fast workouts. When it comes to ultra distance events, 50k is pretty similar to the marathon in terms of recovery (about a month), 50 milers and 100k's generally merit 5-6 weeks of recovery, and 100 miles often requires a solid 2 months for bounce back.

This is where the debate comes in: what defines "raced" vs just having "run" or even ran/walked/hiked/crawled a particular distance? That will largely depend on your base of years in experience, current training volume, and what physical condition you were in on race day (i.e. were you injured, or sick, or were the conditions of the race extreme, etc.) to create the total cumulative stress on your instrument (aka your body). These are all factors in determining when it is appropriate for your body to be ready to run hard (in workouts or another race) again.

Don't be this dude/lady... those fish impressed by his/her Strava
All of you hard working overachievers have anecdotal stories and evidence of athletes who have bucked these rules of thumb, and lord knows there are a tremendous number of training-idiots out there (one of my favorite nicknames for chronic over-trainers and over-racers is Hammerheads, taught to me by the founder of the Fluffy Bunnies Track Club, David Olds). Hell, I know a few knuckleheads that thought it'd be a good idea to run a series of 6 x 100 mile races with only 2 to 3 weeks of recovery in between them, that's 600 miles (of racing) in less than 3 months. Don't be like those guys. Not scheduling recovery weeks/months into your training season and training year is a little like playing Russian Roulette, it's a fun, adrenaline filled game until you finally pull the trigger and the chamber is loaded.

My first marathon (raced) was in October of 2002. I ran the Chicago Marathon and was 11+ minutes off of my A-goal (2:59), and only 12 seconds away from a Boston Marathon qualification (or BQ), needed 3:10:59, ran 3:11:11. I was super inspired and ready to sign up for an early December marathon (California Int'l). Here's the thing, simply running that December marathon may not have been an issue had I taken 3-4 weeks of recovery. Instead, I kept training hard because I had another race to "prepare for". That Russian Roulette chamber was loaded, and I went down hard with quadriceps tendonitis that took me out of running completely for 10 months (each one of those months is a reason not to overtrain, I'd have killed to have any one of those months back). November of 2002 to August of 2003, I was out of commission. Dejectedly attempted 3 painful runs in that 10 month span. I was not surprisingly depressed about the whole situation. When I finally started back running again in September of 2003, it took me another 15 months to train back up to where I was when I over-trained in the month following my first marathon. That's a 2 year "impatience penalty," a massive price to pay for the inspired athlete.

I have learned a lot of hard lessons in my life (and running career) so that maybe you (my reader, or my athlete) wouldn't have to. So for those of you ready to pull the trigger and sign up for that next race that's only a few weeks to a few months away, I urge you to be conservative with your distance, with your pace/effort, and work more on low-intensity cross training elements to allow your body to fully heal from the effort you just put forth. Especially those of you who ran hard road marathons, you're likely to feel fully recovered in about 14 days post, but your bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage are not gonna be there (ready for high impact, high intensity training) for another couple weeks after that. Patience is a huge key here. And knowing you're not going to lose much fitness in 3-4 weeks of taking it low key, but you will lose a ton of fitness if you are forced to take 6 months off due to a stress fracture or tendonitis or worse.

Every training year has it's season, which season are you in?
Every athlete who is serious about their racing, and serious about improving, should have 3-6 weeks off of serious training and hard/long running, 1 to 2 times per calendar year. If you ignore this, you're going to be physically or mentally burned out, and your running career will be but a flash in the pan.

Be proud of your race result! Be inspired and absolutely sign up for more races if you want to. Keep your habits and routines going. But always be mindful that training is like weather's seasons, we all need a Spring (early season base training), Summer (peak fitness training), Fall (racing season) and Winter (rest and recovery focused season)...

What season are you in? Don't allow over enthusiasm call the shots in the realm of rest and recovery, just the same as don't let feeling uninspired stop you from training when you need to keep the routine going. See you at the next race, in the next training program, or out on the trails in between...

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bulletproof Attitude & 1 Trick to Develop Mental Toughness Thru the Alvin Matthews Story

Alvin Matthews is a current member of Team NutriBullet (training for the 2016 LA Marathon) and many years ago trained with the SoCal Coyotes in pursuit of running a marathon on all 7 continents. As a runner, Alvin completed marathons on 6 of the 7 continents (and the North Pole too).

In April of 2014, Alvin fell 3 stories off a roof and cracked his cervical spine rendering him quadriplegic. As he healed/recovered and went to PT (after surgery to fuse C5-C7 vertebrae), Alvin's diagnosis was refined to "incomplete quadriplegic" as his paralyzation is chest down. He has limited (and uneven) use of both of his arms and hands, although precious little strength which he's currently working to build back up. Due to the difficulty of working with his health insurance, he has not been to Physical Therapy in over 3 months.

Alvin's first finish line as a wheelchair athlete
Alvin was barely able to complete 200 meters in his wheelchair on his own power 2 months ago. As you may have seen in the video (above), on Sunday, November 8th Alvin completed the Calabasas Classic 5k in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 54 seconds. He pushed up the hills and on the flats on his own power, and on the downhills he had his mentor Ralph (a very experienced wheelchair athlete with 13 years of racing under his belt) and me making sure he didn't slip backwards down the hill, and also to steer/brake on the downhills as he didn't have the strength/leverage at higher speeds to brake. His wheelchair is not designed for racing.

Our plan is to purchase one of these hand-cycles for Alvin!
We (his coaches, teammates and friends) aim to raise $15,000 (or more) to cover the costs of a new racing hand-cycle (a specialized wheelchair that will allow Alvin to restore his strength and health) and put Alvin back into the Physical Therapy he needs to perform everyday functions. Alvin dreams of being able to drive again, he plans to race a marathon on his 7th continent to complete a huge personal goal, and he also plans someday to be able to walk again. Doctors have said cases like Alvin's are a one-in-a-million shot to walk, to which Alvin responded, "why not be the one who does?"

Alvin has a very simple reframing technique when he's struggling: he simply reminds himself that there are people less fortunate than him. Kids and adults in hospital beds, fully quadriplegic and unable to move, to exercise, to perform every day functions. So whenever you are struggling, think of how lucky you are to be able to do what you do. Whether you are a runner or a walker or a hiker, every movement is a gift. Cherish those gifts.

Alvin has inspired all those on Team NutriBullet, and on the Coyotes, and in his life. His positive attitude in the face of these challenges is infectious. We thank you for anything, even if only $10. If you can give more, I thank you, Alvin thanks you, his family and his teammates are grateful for every contribution. We will publish our grand total and how much the hand-cycle costs (and how much more we put towards Alvin's return to Physical Therapy). Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.

"​Goodness is about character - integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people."
-​Dennis Prager


Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 Reasons People DNF at the Javelina 100 Miler and How to Avoid It (with Wizard of Oz Style!)

Who you callin' cute, sucker?
Post updated/revised:
I wrote this post in October of 2015 to put my money where my mouth is (or was). I toe'd the line of the Javelina 100 Miler the past two years (2015 & 2016) in Fountain Hills, Arizona (near Scottsdale, the home of the AZ Fall League's Scottsdale Scorpions, a development team including players from the San Francisco Giants farm/development system, but I digress...). While 2015 was my 21st attempt to run 100 miles (or a little further), it was my first time tackling the cute little pig known as Javelina. No, they aren't really pigs, they are peccaries, which is like a cousin to a pig. I guess some ways this is an interesting parallel because some have been known to say that the Javelina Jundred 100 Miler is "a runnable, fast, good 100 for first timers that is on a relatively easy course." Ohhhhh, boy. That's where the danger begins...

Let's first explore the question of the DNF percentage from 2009-2014 (over 50% who start typically do not finish this race, historically). Why the hell does this "runnable, flat-ish, relatively easy course" have one of the highest DNF rates in ultra running? Some would say that it's the disproportionate amount of first timers. I would argue that it's not the relative lack of experience that does many in, as I've seen some really experienced 100-mile runners go down here (I am now 2-for-2 at Javelina in spite of two pretty rough years/races). If one doesn't look at what makes this challenge particularly unique, and you expect to suffer less relative to other races, then this is what makes this event so difficult. Here are the starting and finishing stats, and finishing/DNF percentages from the 6 years I crewed and coached athletes for Javelina...

2009 - 250 started / 124 finished (49.6% finished, 50.4% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 38 (15.2%)
2010 - 263 started / 137 finished (52.1% finished, 47.9% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 50 (19.0%)
2011 - 339 started / 174 finished (51.3% finished, 48.7% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 65 (19.2%)
2012 - 364 started / 160 finished (43.9% finished, 56.1% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 56 (15.4%)
2013 - 377 started / 157 finished (41.6% finished, 58.4% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 41 (10.1%)
2014 - 511 started / 290 finished (56.8% finished, 43.2% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 98 (19.2%)

2009-2014 TOTALS:2,104 started / 1,042 finished (49.5% finished, 50.5% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 348 (16.5%)

2015 JJ100, Lap 2 (old course) - photo by SweetM Images

2015 - 
459 started / 281 finished (61.2% finished, 38.8% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 113 (24.6%)
2016 - 574 started / 285 finished (49.7% finished, 50.3% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 93 (16.2%)

2015-2016 TOTALS:
1,033 started / 566 finished (54.8% finished, 45.2% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 206 (19.9%)
2009-2016 TOTALS:
3,137 started / 1,608 finished (51.3% finished, 48.7% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 554 (17.7%)

Having crewed and coached over 30+ athletes who've run Javelina, and now having back-to-back years suffering through it myself, I am here to tell you how I've seen people shoot themselves in the foot. Some of this is general 100-miler stuff, and a few things are unique to Javelina. So, here we go...


#5- How about a little fire, Scarecrow? (not managing the heat... well enough) - this race is super exposed and relatively hot. It is generally not humid, and most certainly Arizona sees typical temps that are ~30 degrees higher at times in the summer. Javelina seems to trend around a high of 80 degrees, give or take 10 degrees. So 90 is a blistering hot year, and 70 is a "cold year". But here's the problem, it's exposed. You never get a respite from the direct sun, unless there's no sun (or you're sitting under a tent, not moving forward on the course). The sun beats down on the trail (and you) relentlessly, and Laps 2, 3, and for some 4 (and 7) are hard on you like it's 10 degrees hotter. It might actually be a few degrees hotter. As the sun bakes the trail throughout the day, the heat emanates off the trail below you and it will hit you a little harder than if you were running in the shade. So, pretend it's 10 degrees hotter, and keep ice in a bandanna around your neck, fill your running cap with ice, and do not drink ice water.

Momentary heat side-track: if you drink ice water in your bottles when that cold water hits the stomach, the body is forced to use energy in order to warm up that liquid inside your body to match that of your body's natural internal temperature. This process will rob your body of the energy it needs to properly process what fluid (and calories and electrolytes) you've ingested. So energy is spent on the regulation of the internal fluid temps, rather than processing new fuel/energy and it is a super big deal as that energy deficit adds up in the heat of the day.

Cold water (or ice) is for your head and neck. Warm or air temp water is for drinking. If you're running, your body is generating more heat (than if you're moving much slower). So during those hot laps (when I've seen some speed up), slow it down a little to help manage your core temps.

#4 - There's no place like home, there's no place like home! (getting too comfortable at the start/finish with family/friends) - this is one of the chief problems with the mental DNF at Javelina, being at the place where all your finishing crap is! And your lovely family! And when you say in the middle of the night, "I don't want to do this anymore, I'm not having any fun" sometimes you have a crew that's thinking, "thank effen goodness, we're so ready to be done too!" 

Know that you pass through JJHQ around Mile 15.5 (one), Mile 31 (two), Mile 46.5 (three), Mile 62 (four), Mile 77.5 (five) and Mile 93 (six), and if you think you'll get through JJHQ excited to leave for another 15.5 miles in the dreaded desert every single time, think again. You're gonna feel the suck at least 2 of those 6 times, possibly more, so you've got to have a plan to get in an out of there efficiently. Don't rush it, you need to get stuff for another 2-5 hours out there. "Be quick, don't hurry" (one of my favorite Coach John Wooden quotes). But unless you're fixing blisters at medical, doing a complete outfit change for the night, there's really no reason to be there for more than 5 minutes. Get out. Don't sit down (except to change shoes, if you must). Keep moving. Get your mental juju back by taking steps towards the finish line.

#3 - Poppies, poppies, poppies. Sleeeeeeeeep! (the curse of naps and mismanaged caffeine) - I would love to dive into the science of why you should try to avoid caffeine during the day when it's hot. But this post is going to get way too long (it's already twice as long as I intended). So let me put it in another way, you want to save caffeine (and other stimulants) for when you actually need them. Your hypothalamus is going to try to power things down in your body so you can sleep (restorative regeneration) while you're still running if you run long enough. So save the inner light for when it gets dark. And once you start using caffeine, you better keep using it or your energy will fall off a cliff. I like to try to keep the stream coming every 25-30 minutes once I start, but at the very least I'm getting it at every aid station once I begin to use it. Also, if you get really, really tired, some get to the start/finish and try to sleep and rationalize when they wake up they'll feel better (and be able to run better). In my experience, this is rarely true. And you wake up in 90 minutes when you planned for 30. And now you're fighting cutoffs. So don't do it. Manage your mind, your stimulants, and keep on keepin' on.

#2 - Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of speed! (getting carried away with pace splits in the first two-three laps) - Okay, so the Wicked Witch of the West said spears, not speed. But hey, if you run too fast your quads, hamstrings, IT bands are all going to feel like the Wicked Witch put a bunch of spears into you. I have witnessed more "speed kills" at this race than every other 100 miler I've been to combined. I've seen runners with a 28+ hour 100 miler PR running around 17-hour pace splits. Just running comfortably, and aerobically is not enough. A marathon race pace is aerobic and comfortable for 20-ish miles! Then you go into ketosis when you've exhausted your glycogen supply and you're fighting cramps and you are metabolically hosed. Marathon pace plus one minute is more like a 50k pace. I don't even recommend running by pace. For those of you not running with a heart rate monitor, it's going to be a little more tricky. If you've never run 100 miles before, you've got to be even more careful and conservative. Think of it this way, around 20% of the nearly 500 race starters ran sub-24 hours last year. Are you typically in the top 20% of the races you finish? Because if you're not, you're pretty bold going out in sub-20 hour pace and rationalizing that you're putting time in the bank. Putting time in the bank is like tying a loaded safe to you so you can run the second half of the race dragging said safe behind you. A sub-20 hour time is around 11:45/mile pace (or faster). Yes, we all factor in stop time (which is generally around a minute per mile or more), so really, we're talking 10:45 average running pace. "But I can't run that slow!" many will exclaim to me. That's what walking up small inclines is for. Or just taking a walk break to lower your heart rate. Running faster than 12 minutes per mile in the second half of the race is actually quite impressive, so try to bring your first half and second half paces closer together so you can be the one passing dozens, or even 100 people in the second half. Now that's a fun race!

#1 - I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too! (not taking the suffering seriously) - I'm going to break this one into two different categories, the beginner, and the experienced 100 miler...

1st Time 100 Milers - so you've never experienced 100 miles yet? Maybe you've run a few 50 milers or a tough 100k, but this is your first journey into those extra 40-50 miles of pure magic. People tell you it's going to hurt, but there's no context to it. You may have even heard moms who run hundos compare it to childbirth. Kinda freaky, right? But hey, it didn't scare you that much, and here you are! Pitfall #1 is thinking of 100's in a linear or proportional fashion. It doesn't hurt twice as much, nor twice as often as a 50 miler. In some cases, it's worse than that. In others, it's not that much worse pain wise, but you're in that hurt locker for a lot longer. It takes mental stamina, toughness and a willingness to suffer a bit. You really aren't going to know if you're mentally ready until you're in that moment. But what I do is measure the number of hours I've put into training (for me, this time around it's about 250 hours, or 10 hours a week average for the past 25 weeks, I'm rounding off here, but that's a ballpark). Then, when I'm hurting, I tell myself, "this isn't going to hurt like this for the rest of the time, but even if it did, that's only 10 more hours (example), and that's not even 1/20th of my training!" I tell myself to consider others who wish they could be running by my side. My wife just had leg surgery. My buddy Alvin would love to run a loop with me (he's in a wheelchair now). I'm so lucky to be able to hurt this way. I'm so lucky my body is capable of this amazing, freaky endurance. I keep telling myself these things to re-frame the pain. And believe me it helps if you commit to it. So when it really hurts, the worse it is, the more proud you're going to be of finishing. I've heard it said very eloquently that "finishing 100 milers hurts for a week. DNF'ing 100 milers hurts for at least a year." So, get along little doggie...

Experienced 100 Milers - the main pitfall with an experienced hundred miler at Javelina is you've probably run much harder courses than this. You've maybe even run on hotter days than this. It's dangerous to think that because the course isn't as hard, and the heat isn't as high, that you'll suffer less. Then, when you suffer more, you're ill equipped to handle it psychologically. Here's the rub: this course has more running. The more you run, generally speaking, the more it's going to hurt. I ran 6 of these things last summer, and Vermont (while my fastest race last summer) was the race I was in the most disrepair at the finish line. My feet were wrecked. I was in the medical tent for a bit. Running more is really rough, especially for those of you who are used to mountain races when you get your hiking uphill break, then downhill feels like low-effort since gravity is doing the work. Maybe you don't feel that way, but if you want to run your fastest time at this distance, you at least have to be willing to hurt more (and for a longer duration) than you have before. Then, if you don't, it's a mental boost. Gravy, my friends.
Follow the Pemberton Trail, follow the Pemberton Trail... follow, follow, follow, follow...

I have a lot more to say about running 100 milers, but I'll save it for another time. I hope these 5 pitfalls help you overcome the Wicked Witch of the West at McDowell Mountain Park. I'm rooting for all who toe the line at Javelina. I want a bunch of people to high five and run with in that second half. And if you see me sitting down, come kick my ass and tell me to get back out there (unless I'm being carted off on a stretcher, then let medical do their job)...

2016 JJ100 Lap 3 at Jackass Junction - photo by SweetM Images

Jappy Jalloween, Jeveryone!